Dorset to get artificial reef

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Marine life is set to thrive off Bournemouth after the construction of an artificial reef.

The reef is one of only four in the world and the first in Europe and is designed to provide artificial surfing conditions on the Boscombe beach, and enhance the marine environment.

The reef is being built by a New Zealand company ASR and will cost an estimated 2.68 million to build.

It will be 210 metres off the beach, the size of a football pitch and will be built primarily from 55 huge geo-textile (ecologically inert) bags pumped full of sand on a webbing base.

Marine ecologists from Bournemouth University have been working on the project and have found that equivalent projects elsewhere tend to either concentrate or enhance marine populations.

They predict that in this case marine life will increase as there are no equivalent habitats nearby. Dr Rodolphe Gozlan, reader in conservation ecology at the university, is quoted in the Times saying:

We anticipate positive things for the fish populations, because the area is mainly sandy; the reef will allow colonisation from shellfish and corals that would otherwise not be there. That will in turn attract fish.

It is also thought that the artificial reef may halt existing coastal erosion problems in the area. As at present Bournemouth council have to bring in over 20,000 tonnes every 13 years to rebuild the local beaches due to long shore drift.

The reef works exactly like a natural reef in the ocean, creating a seabed profile that will shape the sea's natural waves into well-formed ~surfing waves.

The reef cannot create waves and will only work with existing swell conditions. This means that if the sea is calm and flat, the reef will have no effect whatsoever, however swell over 0.5m may be doubled and ~ride lengths will be greatly increased.

The project has been controversial with other environmentalists warning that close attention must be paid to the protection of other ~at risk species such as Zostera sea grass beds, brittle stars, the horse mussel Modiolus and the pink seafan during construction.

The developers meanwhile insist that the construction will be environmentally sensitive and will not include dredging.

Other sceptics also point out that the reef won t be able to be used by beginners, will cost up to 100,000 a year to maintain and may only last 25 years.

After completion ASR will move onto Goa to do a feasibility study of building two reefs there.